Two Americans competing in an international gas-balloon race were reported missing Tuesday morning, hours after their balloon crossed Italy and went over the Adriatic Sea.
Race officials said they lost contact with the balloon of Richard Abruzzo of New Mexico and Dr. Carol Rymer Davis of Colorado, competing in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, as it was over the sea shortly after 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).
Severe thunderstorms were in the vicinity of the balloon – which launched from the United Kingdom on Saturday - when race officials received the last signal from the balloon’s tracker device, race flight director Don Cameron said in a written statement.
Italian maritime authorities were conducting a search, and Croatian authorities and all ships in the area also were notified of the missing balloon pilots, Cameron said.
The balloon was equipped with a satellite phone, VHF radios, a radar transponder and two mobile phones, but efforts to contact Abruzzo and Rymer Davis were unsuccessful Tuesday, Cameron said.
The balloon also had survival suits, lifejackets and two single-person life rafts, according to Cameron.
"We are hoping that good news will come but are becoming increasingly concerned as nightfall approaches," Cameron said. "We are in close contact with Richard and Carol's families."
The 20-balloon race began Saturday night near Bristol, England, with pilots vying to fly the farthest from the start point. The balloons flew over the English Channel and continued south across France, and most of the balloons ended up landing in France or northern Spain.
But six, including the one piloted by Abruzzo and Rymer Davis, ventured over the Mediterranean. Five of them landed in various European countries Tuesday and Wednesday. The one that flew the farthest - piloted by a Swiss team - landed in eastern Romania on the edge of the Black Sea, more than 2,400 kilometers from Bristol.
Rymer Davis is a radiologist in Denver, Colorado, according to KUSA. She and Abruzzo won the 2004 Gordon Bennett race, which took off that year from France.